There have been a countless number of revelations to come out of the cache of documents leaked courtesy of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The number of secret operations those documents have uncovered is seemingly endless, and today a new report has surfaced pointing at the NSA's third party surveillance program.
It is no mystery the NSA is at the very least attempting to have the capabilities to monitor any and every electronic communication, anywhere in the world. While much of the internet's data passes through the US, there are a number of other international pipeline hubs the Agency keeps a close eye on through third party partnerships.
As part of an operation codenamed RAMPART-A, Dagbladet Information reports that the NSA has partnered with other countries to tap fiber optic cables carrying the world's internet data. While we previously heard about similar activity from the UK, today's report points at other nations involved in RAMPART-A that weren't previously believed to have that close a tie with the NSA. According to the report even within Snowden's documents, information on which countries are involved and where the access points are located appears to be very sensitive, as well as only being fully accessible by those with access to a high level security control system known as "REDHARVEST."
Dagbladet says it has enough information to believe that Germany is involved and likely Denmark as well, but it doesn't stop there because Snowden's documents say there are 33 countries in total participating in RAMPART. It looks like there is a strong possibility the NSA could be using techniques like this to be able to spy on partners from outside the US without breaking international treaties, as much as straight bulk data monitoring. In many cases, the NSA will make a deal with one of these "third party" RAMPART partners in exchange for not spying on said country. But with partnerships all over the world, the NSA is effectively able to spy on anyone from external locations. As an example, the NSA "can spy on the Germans from Denmark, and the Danes from Germany," one expert suggested as result of the NSA third party partnerships.
It appears Fiber line tapping is an important part of the NSA's black budget. According to reports the NSA spent 84% of its $91 million foreign cable access programs budget on RAMPART-A. For a more detailed break down of RAMPART you can access the source Snowden documents as well as US Intelligence black budget information here.